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DuckDuckGo calls out Google privacy update for ‘creepy advertising’

Internet privacy company DuckDuckGo is speaking up again about its gripes with Google and its upcoming plans to replace third-party cookies in the Chrome browser with updated tracking and ad targeting methods.

DuckDuckGo said in a recent blog post that despite Google’s insistence about its transition to using Google Topics and FLEDGE instead of third-party cookies to give you more control over your personal data, the new methods might be just as invasive, as the tech company implements it Privacy Sandbox update onto Chrome.

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Google Topics collects information about users’ interests directly from their Chrome browsing history. Meanwhile, FLEDGE authorizes Chrome to target ads to users based on browsing history, supposedly in a privacy-compliant way and through an on-device auction.

“These new methods enable creepy advertising and other content targeting without third-party cookies,” DuckDuckGo said in its blog post. “While Google is positioning this as more privacy respecting, the simple fact is tracking, targeting, and profiling, still is tracking, targeting, and profiling, no matter what you want to call it.”

Users can block Google Topics and FLEDGE use in Chrome through settings.
Image used with permission by copyright holder

Google appears to still have a very loose definition of Privacy Sandbox, indicating that some solutions will “limit sharing of user data with third parties and operate without cross-app identifiers.”

Privacy and security were big topics at Google’s recent I/O developer conference, where the company introduced My Ad Center, a way of manually customizing the personal information that could be targeted by ads, as well as the ad topics you’ll be delivered. The company also introduced new protections for Google accounts and Google Search.

However, DuckDuckGo argues that especially with Privacy Sandbox enabled, Google Topics and FLEDGE raise particular privacy concerns that are discriminatory, exploitative, and potentially embarrassing to Chrome users. As an example, DuckDuckGo pointed to users not seeing certain job listings due to information in their personal profiles or users getting locked in filter bubbles or echo chambers — all because of the ad content that is being targeted toward them.

It should be noted that DuckDuckGo is a direct competitor of Google, offering both its own search engine and web browser. DuckDuckGo encourages users to consider their options to either opt-out of using Google Topics and FLEDGE or to use an alternative browser. The DuckDuckGo browser is available on iOS and Android and now also for Mac. Of course, you could also consider other web browsers such as Brave, Vivaldi, Microsoft Edge, or Safari as well — all of which offer their own suites of privacy and security features.

As noted by TechRadar, you can use the DuckDuckGo Privacy Essentials Chrome extension, version 2022.4.18, which is equipped to handle issues involving Google Topics and FLEDGE interactions.

You can also opt out of Google Topics and FLEDGE through Google Chrome’s settings. Access the three dots menu, then go to Settings, then “Privacy and security,” then disable “Privacy Sandbox trials.”

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Fionna Agomuoh
Fionna Agomuoh is a technology journalist with over a decade of experience writing about various consumer electronics topics…
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